The Story of Bonnie and Clyde
Outlaws Bonnie and Clyde spent a little more than two years together on the run, but they only earned national attention after photos of the couple were discovered at a crime scene in 1933.
In the depths of the Great Depression, many Americans became transfixed by the couple’s criminal exploits and illicit romance.
Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born October 1, 1910 and Clyde Chestnut Barrow also known as Clyde Champion Barrow was born March 24, 1909. They traveled the central United States with their gang during the Great Depression, robbing people and killing when cornered or confronted. Bonnie was married to Roy Glenn Thornton six days before she turned sixteen, he had been a classmate of hers. After he was imprisoned for robbery in 1929 she met Clyde, and although the pair fell in love, she never divorced Thornton. In fact she died wearing Thornton’s wedding ring.
Their gang was known as the “Barrow Gang” which included Bonnie and Clyde, Buck Barrow, Blanche Barrow, Raymond Hamilton, W.D. Jones, Joe Palmer, Ralph Fults and at times Henry Methvin. Their crimes captured the attention of the American public during the “public enemy era”during the early 1930’s.
Bonnie was born in Rowena, Texas, the second of three children. Her father, Charles Parker, a bricklayer, died when Bonnie was four. Her mother, Emma Krause, moved with the children to her parents’ home in Cement City, an industrial suburb of Dallas, where she found work as a seamstress. Parker was one of the best students in her high school, winning top prizes in spelling, writing and public speaking. As an adult, her fondness for writing found expression in poems such as “The Story of Suicide Sal” and “The Trail’s End” (known since as “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde“).
Clyde was born in Ellis County, Texas, near Telico, a town just south of Dallas. He was the fifth of seven children of Henry Basil Barrow (1874–1957) and Cumie T. Walker (1874–1943), a poor farming family that emigrated, piecemeal, to Dallas in the early 1920s as part of a wave of resettlement from the impoverished nearby farms to the urban slum known as West Dallas. The Barrows spent their first months in West Dallas living under their wagon. When father Henry had earned enough money to buy a tent, it was a major step up for the family.
Clyde was first arrested in late 1926, after running when police confronted him over a rental car he had failed to return on time. His second arrest, with brother Marvin “Buck” Barrow, came soon after, this time for possession of stolen goods (turkeys). Despite having legitimate jobs during the period 1927 through 1929, he also cracked safes, robbed stores, and stole cars. After sequential arrests in 1928 and 1929, he was sent to Eastham Prison Farm in April 1930. While in prison, Barrow beat to death another inmate who had repeatedly assaulted him sexually. It was Clyde Barrow’s first killing. Paroled in February 1932, Barrow emerged from Eastham a hardened and bitter criminal.
There are several versions of the story describing Bonnie’s and Clyde’s first meeting, but the most credible version indicates that Bonnie Parker met Clyde Barrow in January 1930 at a friend’s house. Parker was out of work and was staying in West Dallas to assist a girl friend with a broken arm. Barrow dropped by the girl’s house while Parker was supposedly in the kitchen making hot chocolate. When they met, both were smitten immediately; most historians believe Parker joined Barrow because she was in love. She remained a loyal companion to him as they carried out their crime spree and awaited the violent deaths they viewed as inevitable.
Though remembered today for their dozen-or-so bank robberies, they in fact preferred to rob small stores or rural gas stations. They are believed to have killed nine police officers and several civilians. The couple themselves were eventually ambushed and killed in Louisiana by law officers on May 23, 1934
Barrow and Parker were ambushed and killed on May 23, 1934 on a rural road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. The couple appeared in daylight in an automobile and were shot by a posse of four Texas officers, and two Louisiana officers. The posse was led by Texas lawman, Frank Hamer, who had begun tracking the pair on February 10, 1934. He studied the gang’s movements and found they swung in a circle skirting the edges of five midwest states, exploiting the “state line” rule that prevented officers from one jurisdiction from pursuing a fugitive into another. Barrow was a master of that pre-FBI rule, but compared to John Dillinger, who was active throughout the Midwest at the time of Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree, Clyde was consistent in his movements, so an experienced man-hunter like Hamer could chart his path and predict where he would go. The gang’s itinerary centered on family visits, and they were due to see Henry Methvin’s family in Louisiana, which explained Hamer’s meeting with them over the course of the hunt. Hamer obtained a quantity of civilian BAR’s and 20 round magazines with armor piercing rounds.
At 9:15 am on May 23, the posse, concealed in the bushes and almost ready to leave, heard Barrow’s stolen Ford V8 approaching at a high speed.
The posse’s official report said Barrow had stopped to speak with Henry Methvin’s father, planted there with his truck that morning to distract Barrow and force him into the lane closer to the posse. The lawmen then opened fire, killing Barrow and Parker while shooting a combined total of approximately 130 rounds. All accounts agree that Oakley fired first, and before any order was given to fire. Barrow was killed instantly by Oakley’s initial head shot, but Parker was not hit in the initial barrage; Hinton reported hearing her scream as she realized Barrow was dead before the shooting at her began.
Bonnie and Clyde were shot more than 50 times. Officially Parish coroner Dr. J. L. Wade’s 1934 report listed 17 separate wounds on Barrow’s body and 26 on Parker’s, including several head shots on each, and one that had snapped Barrow’s spinal column. Undertaker C. F. Bailey would have difficulty embalming the bodies because they wouldn’t contain the embalming fluid.
The bullet-riddled Ford containing the two bodies was towed to the Conger Furniture Store and funeral parlor on Railroad Avenue in downtown Arcadia, Louisiana.
It was estimated that the northwest Louisiana town swelled in population from 2,000 to 12,000 within hours, the curious throngs arriving by train, horseback, buggy, and plane.
Below, a marker that marks the ambush site…
Bonnie and Clyde wished to be buried side by side, but the Parker family would not allow it.
Mrs. Parker had wanted to grant her daughter’s final wish, which was to be brought home, but the mobs surrounding the Parker house made that impossible. Over 20,000 people turned out for Bonnie Parker’s funeral, making it difficult for her family to reach the grave site.
Bonnie’s most famous poem in her own handwriting…
Bonnie’s first poem to be published was called “The Story of Suicide Sal.” Parker wrote the poem in 1932 while she was being held in jail. The poem was published in newspapers around the country after it was found during the raid on Bonnie and Clyde’s hideout in Joplin, Missouri, on April 13, 1933.
The Story of Suicide Sal
We each of us have a good “alibi”
For being down here in the “joint;”
But few of them really are justified
If you get right down to the point.
You’ve heard of a woman’s glory
Being spent on a “downright cur,”
Still you can’t always judge the story
As true, being told by her.
As long as I’ve stayed on this “island,”
And heard “confidence tales” from each “gal,”
Only one seemed interesting and truthful —
The story of “Suicide Sal.”
Now “Sal” was a gal of rare beauty,
Though her features were coarse and tough;
She never once faltered from duty
To play on the “up and up.”
“Sal” told me this take on the evening
Before she was turned out “free,”
And I’ll do my best to relate it
Just as she told it to me:
I was born on a ranch in Wyoming;
Not treated like Helen of Troy;
I was taught that “rods are rulers”
And “ranked” as a greasy cowboy.
Then I left my old home for the city
To play in its mad dizzy whirl,
Not knowing how little pity
It holds for a country girl.
There I fell for “the line” of a “henchman,”
A “professional killer” from “Chi;”
I couldn’t help loving him madly;
For him even now I would die.
One year we were desperately happy;
Our “ill gotten gains” we spent free;
I was taught the ways of the “underworld;”
Jack was just like a “god” to me.
I got on the “F.B.A.” payroll
To get the “inside lay” of the “job;”
The bank was “turning big money!”
It looked like a “cinch” for the “mob.”
Eighty grand without even a “rumble”-
Jack was the last with the “loot” in the door,
When the”teller” dead-aimed a revolver
From where they forced him to the floor.
I knew I had only a moment –
He would surely get Jack as he ran;
So I “staged a “”big fade out” beside him
And knocked the forty-five out of his hand.
They “rapped me down big” at the station,
And informed me that I’d get the blame
For the “dramatic stunt” pulled on the “teller”
Looked to them too much like a “game.”
The “police” called it a “frame-up,”
Said it was an “inside job,”
But I steadily denied any knowledge
Or dealings with “underworld mobs,”
The “gang” hired a couple of lawyers,
The best “fixers” in any man’s town,
But it takes more than lawyers and money
When Uncle Sam starts “shaking you down.”
I was charged as a “scion of gangland”
And tried for my wages of sin;
The “dirty dozen” found me guilty –
From five to fifty years in the pen.
I took the “rap” like good people,
And never one “squawk” did I make.
Jack “dropped himself” on the promise
That we make a “sensational break.”
Well, to shorten a sad lengthy story,
Five years have gone over my head
Without even so much as a letter –
At first I thought he was dead.
But not long ago I discovered
From a gal in the joint named Lyle,
That Jack and he “moll” had “got over”
And were living in true “gangster style.”
If he had returned to me sometime,
Though he hadn’t a cent to give,
I’d forget all this hell that he’s caused me,
And love him as long as I live.
But there’s no chance of his ever coming,
For he and his moll have no fears
But that I will die in prison,
Or “flatten” this fifty years.
Tomorrow I’ll be on the “outside”
And I’ll “drop myself” on it today:
I’ll “bump ’em” if they give me the “hotsquat”
On this island out here in the bay …
The iron doors swung wide next morning
For a gruesome woman of waste,
Who at last had a chance to “fix it.”
Murder showed in her cynical face.
Not long ago I read in the paper
That a gal on the East Side got “hot,”
And when the smoke finally retreated,
Two of gangdom were found “on the spot.”
It related the colorful story
Of a “jilted gangster gal.”
Two days later, a “sub-gun” ended
The story of “Suicide Sal.
– Bonnie Parker (©1932)
Bonnie’s second poem to go public, “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” was given by Bonnie to her mother just weeks before the couple was gunned down. (The same writing above from Bonnie’s notebook)
The Story of Bonnie and Clyde
You’ve read the story of Jesse James
Of how he lived and died;
If you’re still in need
Of something to read,
Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.
Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang,
I’m sure you all have read
How they rob and steal
And those who squeal
Are usually found dying or dead.
There’s lots of untruths to these write-ups;
They’re not so ruthless as that;
Their nature is raw;
They hate all the law
The stool pigeons, spotters, and rats.
They call them cold-blooded killers;
They say they are heartless and mean;
But I say this with pride,
That I once knew Clyde
When he was honest and upright and clean.
But the laws fooled around,
Kept taking him down
And locking him up in a cell,
Till he said to me,
“I’ll never be free,
So I’ll meet a few of them in hell.”
The road was so dimly lighted;
There were no highway signs to guide;
But they made up their minds
If all roads were blind,
They wouldn’t give up till they died.
The road gets dimmer and dimmer;
Sometimes you can hardly see;
But it’s fight, man to man,
And do all you can,
For they know they can never be free.
From heart-break some people have suffered;
From weariness some people have died;
But take it all in all,
Our troubles are small
Till we get like Bonnie and Clyde.
If a policeman is killed in Dallas,
And they have no clue or guide;
If they can’t find a fiend,
They just wipe their slate clean
And hang it on Bonnie and Clyde.
There’s two crimes committed in America
Not accredited to the Barrow mob;
They had no hand
In the kidnap demand,
Nor the Kansas City depot job.
A newsboy once said to his buddy;
“I wish old Clyde would get jumped;
In these awful hard times
We’d make a few dimes
If five or six cops would get bumped.”
The police haven’t got the report yet,
But Clyde called me up today;
He said, “Don’t start any fights
We aren’t working nights
We’re joining the NRA.”
From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
Is known as the Great Divide,
Where the women are kin,
And the men are men,
And they won’t “stool” on Bonnie and Clyde.
If they try to act like citizens
And rent them a nice little flat,
About the third night
They’re invited to fight
By a sub-gun’s rat-tat-tat.
They don’t think they’re too tough or desperate,
They know that the law always wins;
They’ve been shot at before,
But they do not ignore
That death is the wages of sin.
Some day they’ll go down together;
And they’ll bury them side by side;
To few it’ll be grief
To the law a relief
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.
— Bonnie Parker (© 1934)
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